UK students face multiple jobs and even food bank visits in the next academic year as rising inflation erodes the value of loans and grants.
A fifth of students say they will have to work two jobs when universities restart from September, according to a survey of 1,500 students by recruitment site Breakroom. Maintenance loans that students can apply for from the government should be the lowest in real terms in seven years, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies.
“We hear of students working multiple jobs to make ends meet, who can’t even afford to go to their college library, and who cut back on cooking food due to soaring energy costs,” said a spokesperson for the National Union of Students said via email. “Our research has shown that thousands more people rely on food banks and buy now, repay loans later.”
While students have always had to fend for themselves, soaring inflation is hitting them particularly hard because maintenance loans are fixed as the cost of living rises. Most will not be compensated by the type of wage increases demanded by those in full-time employment.
This is just one more example of how those who survive on the smallest amount of money will bear the brunt of rising food and energy prices. The British government, currently embroiled in a battle Choose the next prime minister, is under pressure to increase support for low-income households or risk a spike in poverty.
Undergraduate students in England can apply for a loan to cover living costs based on family income and whether they plan to live at home while studying. The maximum loan for people from low-income households studying in London is currently £12,667 ($15,000), about £1,000 less than the minimum cost of living in the city, according to estimates by University College London.
Costs are also rising for those attending university outside the capital, as items such as rent and food, where inflation hits hardest, make up the bulk of student spending. Aminah Memon, a student at Oxford University, has been working all summer in case she needs to top up her loan and the scholarship she receives for being from a low-income household.
“I’ll have to be more aware than last year and always plan ahead,” said Memon, who doesn’t drink or club. “My roommates and I have also decided to split weekly shopping and meal preparation to share the costs.”
Students also have to pay higher interest on their loans when they graduate, although they don’t have to start paying off debt until they earn more than £27,295 a year. The government recently said it would cap interest loan repayments at 6.3%.
The government has “continued to increase cost-of-living support on an annual basis for students from the lowest income households since the start of the pandemic, and they now have access to the largest ever amounts of cash “said a spokesperson for the Department of Education.
There are already signs that soaring costs are changing behaviors. Education charity UCAS says it has recorded a drop in the distances students plan to travel to higher education, indicating that many are opting to stay at home. Clare Marchant, who runs the charity, fears that many prospective students are choosing not to pursue higher education at all.
Olivia Gilbert, who starts a postgraduate degree in the capital in September, says she plans to work as a nanny during the day and work evenings in bars and clubs.
“Trying to accommodate my studies and just taking care of myself in general is going to be very difficult and will definitely have a negative impact on my academic abilities,” Gilbert said. “I never had to work two jobs before that.”
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